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Burger chains have appetite for growth

Local Burgerville, McDonald's revamp, change with times


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - McDonalds owner Don Armstrong points out where artistic sculptures and attractive landscaping will spruce up the appeal of his renovated restaurant on 185th Avenue.Burgerville opened its first new restaurant in 11 years in Tigard last July. Now, Jeff Harvey, Burgerville president and chief executive officer, says the local, family-owned business is ready to start growing. He admits the next location is a little unusual, however. It is the Portland International Airport.

“It’s going to be a challenge to bring our brand of locally sourced food to the airport, but we’re committed to doing it right,” Harvey says.

According to Harvey, Burgerville responded more than two years ago to a request for proposals to replace a Wendy’s restaurant at the airport. The company wasn’t sold on the idea, Harvey says, but wanted to explore it. When the space went to another restaurant, Harvey was almost relieved and turned his attentions elsewhere.

But then Port of Portland officials began calling and saying they wanted Burgerville at the airport because of its company values. The clincher came when port Executive Director Bill Wyatt visited company officials and asked them to open a restaurant at the airport. Now Harvey and other Burgerville officials are studying how to maintain their unique identity and still meet the needs of airport travelers.

The new restaurant is scheduled to open this winter. It won’t be the first time Burgerville has tinkered with its image, however. It’s most recent restaurant at 12785 S.W. Pacific Highway in Tigard also is a departure from the company’s classic drive-up styling. It features a natural wood interior and ultra-modern touches, such as a large, interactive TV screen that shows live Instagram and Twitter feeds from folks inside the restaurant.

Harvey says the design grew out of discussions with community restaurants. Most of the food is still local, a tradition started by Jacob Propstra, a Dutch immigrant, who founded The Holland Creamery in Vancouver, Wash., in 1922. His son, George, opened the first Burgerville USA in 1961 in Vancouver.

McDonald’s polishes image

Burgerville isn’t the only regional fast-food restaurant that has revised its image in recent years. Don Armstrong gets excited when he talks about the metal sculpture that soon will be erected outside his remodeled McDonald’s along Northwest 185th Avenue in Hillsboro.

“It will have stainless steel salmon, and they’ll be set at different levels on poles so it looks like they are swimming downstream,” Armstrong says.

In addition to the outdoor sculpture by local artist Bob Kimble, it will feature a nearby water wall, free WiFi, a digital menu board and an interior color of earth tones and pastels. The bright yellow golden arches will be replaced by an integrated arched roofline.

“People will still know it’s a McDonald’s,” Armstong said of the building nearing completion at 2435 N.W. Town Center Drive.

Although Armstrong won’t reveal the total cost for the renovation, he said it will be in the millions of dollars. The investment will be worth it, Armstrong explained, if customer visits increase just a few percentage points.

On reality TV, the hottest food competitions are between celebrity chefs fighting to see who can prepare the most exotic meal. But, as the changes at the Burgerville and McDonald’s restaurants show, the competition is equally fierce among businesses that most people take for granted — the traditional convenience-oriented restaurants that sell vast quantities of prepared foods to large numbers of people every day.

Neither company thinks of its offerings as “fast food,” however, a phrase with derogatory undertones. Armstrong said he simply is in the restaurant business. Burgerville considers itself a “quick-service restaurant,” an industry term with a specific meaning about its operations.

Recent financial reports help explain why the competition is so strong. As reported by The New York Times on June 8, fewer millennials — people between the ages of 18 and 30 — are eating out than their parents or older siblings did at their age. If this trend continues, even well-known chains such as McDonald’s are predicted to lose money in coming years. So the race is on to figure out how to appeal to the millennials, in the hope of building future brand loyalty and sales.

The new features at the remodeled McDonald’s and new Burgerville give insights into their marketing strategies. Instead of moving customers in and out as quickly as possible, one goal is to encourage them to linger — to stay in a more relaxing atmosphere, admire the art, use the free WiFi and check out digital displays of community events. Traditional drive-through lanes are still offered and even increased from one to two at the remodeled McDonald’s. But speed is not the top priority any longer.

“We’re saying it’s OK to slow down,” said Armstrong, who has reason to believe the changes will pay off. He previously remodeled his restaurants in Aloha and at Cornelius Pass Road and West Union in Hillsboro with the same changes. Business increased noticeably at both locations.

Healthy is a selling point

Menus also are changing to increase the variety of healthy ingredients. That’s long been a strategy at Burgerville, which is owned and operated only in the Pacific Northwest. The company buys as much of its food as possible locally and stresses seasonal offerings. For example, a recent special included asparagus spears and fresh strawberries, and Walla Walla onions will be added when they are in season.

McDonald’s also has added healthier offerings to its traditional burgers and fries. They include salads, wraps and the lower-calorie “Egg White Delight McMuffin” breakfast sandwich.

The healthier offerings haven’t stopped all criticism, of course. Some organizations, including the Population Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin, consider so-called fast food restaurants to be a health risk. But at least McDonald’s and Burgerville now can say they are offering a range of choices to their customers.

Increased business is important to the bottom line of both businesses, of course, but it is important to the local economy as well. Forty new jobs were created at the Tigard Burgerville when it opened last July. Anticipating an increase in sales, Armstrong is expanding the work force at the McDonald’s on 185th Avenue from 65 to 90 employees. It is set to open in July.